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The Farmsteads at Antietam – David R. Miller Farm

March 3, 2017 by jacobrohrbach

Map

Daybreak on September 17, 1862.

On the morning of September 17, 1862, Major General Joseph Hooker rode out from the Joseph Poffenberger barn where he had spent the drizzly night.  When he reached the edge of the North Woods and looked to the south he could see the objective of his Union First Corps – a small rise of ground at the junction of Smoketown Road and the Hagerstown Turnpike.   Nearly a mile away, this intersection was next to a small whitewashed building, thought to be a schoolhouse but was actually the Dunker Church.  Confederate forces under Stonewall Jackson defended the intersection in a line extending from the Mumma farm northwestward across the Hagerstown Pike through the woods to Nicodemus Heights.  Halfway between Hooker’s First Corps and his objective at the Dunker Church stood the farmstead of David R. Miller.  During the morning of September 17, the majority of the fighting would take place surrounding D.R. Miller’s farm – at the Cornfield, in the East Woods, along the Hagerstown Turnpike, in the West Woods and around the Dunker Church.

Miller farm

D.R. Miller Farmstead today.

Like the Joseph Poffenberger farm, the D.R. Miller property was once part of the tract granted to Joseph Chapline called ‘Loss and Gain’ that was bequeathed to his son, James Chapline.  In order to satisfy his creditors, James began leasing and selling parts of his land in the late 1790’s.  Although there is no recorded lease or deed, it is believed that a John Myers was occupying on a portion of Chapline’s tract, now call “Addition to Loss and Gain“.  In 1796, James Chapline sold 40 acres to Jonas Hogmire and that deed refers to “the part of Addition to Loss and Gain that John Myers now lives on..”  Hogmire would also purchased another 40-acre lot from Chapline in 1797.

floor sketch

Sketch plan of the first floor of the D.R. Miller farmhouse.

In 1799, Hogmire sold 81 3/8 acres to John Myers for £610, 6 shillings and 3 pence.  Around this time the main house was built.  The log structure sat on a limestone foundation with a central chimney system.  “The chimney served the fireplaces of several rooms on each floor and was indicative of traditional Pennsylvania German floor plans”.  The additional ell on the north side of the building would include a dining room, kitchen and porch.   By the end of 1812, John Myers would acquire another 150 acres and several other smaller lots from James Buchanan, who was the Trustee for the sale of James Chapline’s land.

John Myers lived on the property until his death in 1836.  According to his will, he directed that the farm be rented out for five years and that his daughter Kitty, “is to have and enjoy the free entire use and benefit of the mansion house in which I reside”.   Based on the information in the will, the property included the “mansion house” and the “old house”.  It is likely that the “mansion house” was referring to the house that is standing on the property today and the “old house” may have been a dwelling first occupied by John Myers, but being utilized as a tenant house in the 1830’s.  Other improvements on the property included a second tenant house, a blacksmith shop, an out-kitchen, a spring and two gardens.  The farm was divided by the “big road” referring to the Hagerstown-Sharpsburg turnpike.  Across the turnpike stood the barn, a stable, a corn crib-wagon shed and hog pens.

Miller famr

The red line represents the approx. boundary of the farm based off the 1859 Taggert map.

In January, 1842 the property was put up for sale by the executors of John Myers will.  An advertisement in the Hagerstown Mail stated that the farm consisted of “265 Acres of first-rate Limestone Land; about 150 Acres of which are cleared, the balance in thriving timber.  In addition to the buildings there was an orchard of “fine Fruit Trees”.   On April 24, 1844, David R. Miller purchased the farm for $53.00 per acre.  That same day, David transferred the property to his father, John Miller, who was one of the executors.  Although John Miller continued to own the farm until his death in 1882, his son David, known as D.R., would live there.

D.R. Miller was given his name in honor of his grandfather David Miller.   David Miller and his wife, Catherine Flick, were from the Rhinepfalze region of Germany.  In the 1760’s they emigrated to Maryland  and established the first store in the new town of Sharpsburg in 1768.

David’s son John, followed in his footsteps  operating not only the store, but the town post office, a hotel, a gristmill and also owned several farms.  During the War of 1812, John was a colonel in the militia and continued to be referred to as Colonel Miller.

Farm layout

D.R. Miller Farm in 1862.

The very wealthy Col. Miller helped establish his sons on farms throughout the Sharpsburg area. On April 2, 1846, his son D.R. married Margaret Pottenger.  Together they set up housekeeping and started to raise a family on the recently purchased farm.  By September 1862, they had seven children and like the neighboring farms, they worked hard to harvest their crops that fall.  Near the west side barn a number of haystacks stood and the garden was “sprawling with pumpkins, potatoes, and beans.”  Just to the south of the farm was  Miller’s 24-acre cornfield with “stalks higher than a man’s head” standing ready to harvest.

As the converging Union and Confederate armies neared Sharpsburg, Miller had his livestock driven to safety before they arrived, “all except one angry bull that refused to be herded”.  The day before the battle, D.R. and his family left the farm and moved closer to safety at his father’s house on the other side of Houser’s Ridge.  They made sure to take along the family’s pet parrot – Polly.  As the fighting raged closer and the family moved into shelter, they realized that Polly was still in her cage on the porch. Just as D.R. ran out to rescue the petrified parrot on the porch, a shell fragment sliced through the leather strip and the cage fell to the ground as the squawking parrot cried, “Oh, poor Polly.

While the Miller’s were sheltered at his father’s house, the battle raged back and forth across their farm, the fields and in the woods.  Some of the most vicious fighting occurred in and around D.R. Miller’s cornfield.  Gen. Hooker would write in his official report that, “every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battle-field”.  When Miller and his family returned to their home, the field was exactly how Hooker had described it, “not a single stalk left standing”. D.R. Miller’s field would forever be known as The Cornfield.

 

Dead Confederates

Confederate soldiers along Hagerstown Pike. D.R. Miller’s cornfield is just over the top of the fence rail in the distance.

Hagerstown Pike

Modern view of the photograph on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the battle Union casualties gathered at the farmstead, but were quickly moved to an established hospital further to the north. The days following the battle, Union burial details swept across Miller’s property, first to bury their comrades, than to bury the Confederates.

burial detail

Union burial detail on the D.R. Miller farm. The barn roof can be see on the far right of the photo.

site of burial detail

Modern view of the photograph on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

90 PA monument

Modern view of the photograph on the left.

Burial detail

Union Burial detail on the Miller farm where the 90th PA monument is today.

Surprisingly there was very little damage to the house and barn, only the blacksmith shop was destroyed.  The crops in the fields were ruined and the stacks in and around the barn were used for the wounded and feeding the horses.  David R. Miller filed a claim of $1,237.75 for damages of which he received $995.00 from the Federal government for his losses on July 6, 1872.

D.R. Miller house - 1862

Photograph of the Miller house taken shortly after the battle.

Miller house

Modern view of the photograph on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D.R. Miller and his family continued to live and work on the farm for the next twenty years.  When Colonel John Miller died in 1882, he left a large amount of real estate, with eight children and no recorded will.  This would place D. R. and Margaret against several of the other surviving heirs.   After a bitter court battle it was agreed to sell the property and divide the money among  the heirs.  In November of 1882, 150 acres around the house and the farm buildings were put up for public sale. It is unclear what happened to the remaining 100 plus acres at the southern end of the property, but it is possible that they were parceled off and sold as well.

Survey of Miller farm

Survey of the southern parcels of the D.R. Miller property by S.S. Downin, in 1883.

Eventually a year later, in November 1883, D.R. and Margaret purchased the farm they had been living on for almost forty years.  A little over two years later they would sell the farm to Euromus Hoffman on March 29, 1886.  Unfortunately the Miller’s did not enjoy a long retirement from the farm, for on November 13, 1888, Margaret passed away at the age of 63.  D.R. survived until the age of 78, when he died on September 10 1893, almost thirty-one years after the battle.  Margaret and David R. Miller rest together at the Mountain View Cemetery in Sharpsburg, near their neighbors, Joseph and Mary Ann Poffenberger.

The Millers

Daguerreotype of David R. and Margaret Miller

Millers gravesite

David R. and Margaret Miller’s gravestone at Mountain View Cemetery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The farm stayed within the descendants of the Hoffman family until 1933 when it was sold to John C. and Emma F. Poffenberger.  In 1950, a widowed Emma Poffenberger would sell the farm to William and Lucy Barr who would only own it for two years before they sold the property to Paul and Evelyn Culler in 1952.  On July 3, 1989, Paul Culler sold the farm to the Conservation Fund which would donate the property to the National Park Service in 1990.

Today, the D.R. Miller house has been stabilized and restored to its post-war appearance.  A large portion of the farm is utilized by the National Park Service for their Living Farm program.  The post-war outbuildings and fields are leased to local farmers to raise crops and livestock, generating some revenue but more importantly preserving the agricultural landscape of the battlefield.

The D.R. Miller farm was at the epicenter of the battle.  According the a National Park Service ranger, the carnage here was some of the worst of the entire war. “There was a soldier killed or wounded every second for four hours straight”.  This hallowed ground became the “bloodiest square mile in the history of the United States.”   The D.R. Miller farmstead is a true eyewitness to history.

The Bloody Cornfield

D.R. Miller’s Cornfield

Sources:
  • Barron, Lee and Barbara Barron, The History of Sharpsburg, Maryland: Founded by Joseph Chapline, 1763. Sharpsburg: self-published, 1972.
  • Dresser, Michael, (September 13, 2012). 150 years later, Preservationists see victory at Antietam. The Baltimore Sun.  Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-antietam-anniversary-20120913-story.html.
  • Ernst, Kathleen A., Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999.
  • Downin, S. S., Survey of the property of George Poffenberger and Mrs. Nicodemus in Washington County, Md, 1883. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/2005625029/.
  • Gardner, Alexander,  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Selected Civil War Photographs Collection, Washington, D.C., 1862.  Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/related/?fi=name&q=Gardner%2C%20Alexander%2C%201821-1882
  • Reardon, Carol and Tom Vossler, A Field Guide to Antietam: experiencing the battlefield through history, places and people, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
  •  Reed, Paula S., History Report: The D.R. Miller Farm, Hagerstown, MD: Preservation Associates, 1991: Retrieved from  https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anti/miller.pdf.
  • Walker, Kevin M and K. C. Kirkman, Antietam Farmsteads: A Guide to the Battlefield Landscape, Sharpsburg: Western Maryland Interpretive Association, 2010.
  • U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols, Washington, D.C.; Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.
  • U.S. War Department, Atlas of the battlefield of Antietam, prepared under the direction of the Antietam Battlefield Board, lieut. col. Geo. W. Davis, U.S.A., president, gen. E.A. Carman, U.S.V., gen. H Heth, C.S.A. Surveyed by lieut. col. E.B. Cope, engineer, H.W. Mattern, assistant engineer, of the Gettysburg National Park. Drawn by Charles H. Ourand, 1899. Position of troops by gen. E. A. Carman. Published by authority of the Secretary of War, under the direction of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, 1908.” Washington, Government Printing Office, 1908.   Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3842am.gcw0248000/?sp=5.

The Farmsteads at Antietam – Joseph Poffenberger Farm

January 30, 2017 by jacobrohrbach

Antietam is said to be one of the most pristine and well preserved Civil War battlefields.  When you look across the landscape little has changed since that fateful day of September 17, 1862.  The preserved fencelines, fields and woodlots help us understand the ebb and flow of the battle.  The details of the Battle of Antietam are well known to students of the Civil War, but as you survey the battlefield, you see scattered across the countryside the proof that battles are not fought in a vacuum.  Several farmsteads dot the landscape as well.  We tend to forget about the civilians that are caught up in the events swirling around the homes where for generations families lived, worked, played, and died.  One of the most frequently asked questions from our guests is about the families that lived in and around Sharpsburg.

Each month we will explore one of the farmsteads at Antietam to help answer some of these questions: What did the farm look like?  Who lived there before the battle?  What did the families do during the battle?  What happened to the families after the battle?

In the early 1700’s very few people lived west of Frederick.  To induce immigrants into western Maryland, land was being offered at very low prices; and people with disposable wealth began to purchase large tracts of land.  Since 1738, Joseph Chapline, Sr. had been acquiring hundreds of acres of land along the Potomac River through grants and purchases.  When war with the French and Indians erupted in 1754, Chapline was called upon to assist his friend and Maryland Governor, Horatio Sharpe.  As a Captain, Chapline would help finance and build forts along the frontier.  For these efforts, Captain Chapline received over 10,000 acres adjacent to his existing estate from Governor Sharpe after the war in 1763.  In honor of his good friend, Chapline established the town of Sharpes Burgh.  Totaling more than 15,000 acres, or 24 square miles, in the Antietam Valley, Joseph Chapline was one of the largest landholders west of Frederick town.

The Joseph Poffenberger House

Joseph Chapline died on January 8, 1769, and in his Last Will and Testament, the huge estate was divided among Joseph’s nine children.  Just east of Chapline’s plantation estate, known as Mount Pleasant, lay a 1,484 acre tract called ‘Loss and Gain’ that was devised to his son, James Chapline (the Joseph Poffenberger Farmstead was originally part of the large estate).  It is almost certain that it was occupied by a tenant when James inherited the property.  Although there is no record, the architectural evidence  indicates that the construction of the 1 1/2 story log house dates to 1770 with a 2nd story added circa 1790.

Wash House

During this period James began leasing and selling family farm-sized tracts of 100 to 300 acres.  Robert Smith purchased a number of these 100-acre tracts and in 1813 sold 272 acres to Christian Middlekauff.  In addition to the house, the farm consisted of a shed, the wash house, and a wagon shed & corn crib.   In 1820, Middlekauff’s daughter Rosanna married Daniel Finifrock and according to the census, it appears that Rosanna and Daniel moved onto the property.  Over the next thirteen years they would have seven children together.

Bank Barn & Corn Crib / Granary

In 1828, Rosanna’s father, Christian Middlekauff died and her brother-in-law, David Neikirk was left in charge of the estate.  The following year Neikirk sold the farm to Daniel, presumably to settle the estate.  In 1833, Daniel mortgaged the property to his neighbor, Jacob Coffman, obtaining a $3,000 loan and given ten years to repay him.  Several other structures were built around this time, suggesting that Daniel used the loan to pay for some improvements to the farm.  The bank barn and equipment shed were built and an ice house and smokehouse were added completing the farm complex.

Location of Ice House

Tragedy struck that same year with Rosanna dying in August, followed by Daniel just two months later in October.  With no disposition of the property recorded after the Finifrocks’ passing, it’s believed that the seven orphaned children remained on their parents farm for the next ten years.  With the loan not satisfied, Jacob Coffman assumed ownership of the property in 1843. It’s possible that the Finifrock children remained for a while as tenants but by the 1850 census, Joseph and Mary Ann Poffenberger were living on the 124-acre farm.

On February 8,  1838, Joseph Poffenberger and Mary Ann Coffman were married. The youngest son of Adam Poffenberger, Joseph was born on July 26, 1812.  Joseph’s grandfather, John was Washington County’s first resident with the Poffenberger name.  As a skilled artisan, John operated blacksmith shops and forges which produced such a large volume of smoke, that the village built up around his works was called Smoke Town.

Location of tenant house at southwest corner of property

In 1852, Mary Ann’s father, Jacob Coffman sold his son-in-law the 124-acre area plus an additional 20 acres he had most likely parceled off his property along the Hagerstown turnpike to increase the farm to 144 acres.   Over the next ten years, Joseph would increase the size of his farm to 166 acres.  Mary Ann and Joseph had no children,  but with the substantial number of Poffenbergers in the Sharpsburg and Washington County area, they would have taken in relatives in need.  His nephew, Josiah Poffenberger is listed on the 1860 census as a farm hand and the couple also took in a young boy named Isaac Mallet.  They had a tenant, Samuel Kretzer who most likely lived in a tenant house on the southwest corner of the property along the Hagerstown Turnpike.

Joseph Poffenberger Farm 1862

Joseph Poffenberger Farm 1862

Over the summer and into the fall of 1862, Joseph Poffenberger, like all of his neighbors had worked to harvest their crop of wheat, flax, corn and clover.  Straw was stacked high in the barnyard and the produce from the orchard around the house filled Mary Ann’s cellar with “apple, peach, and plum butter, barrels of pickles and preserves of all kinds. Hundreds of pounds of smoked meat hung in the storehouse, and there was even a barrel of whiskey.”  Unfortunately they would not stay to enjoy the fruits of their labor knowing that Union and Confederate forces were quickly approaching Sharpsburg.

Position of Union forces across the Joseph Poffenberger farm as the battle erupts on the morning of September 17, 1862.

 

Before leaving the farm Joseph moved all his horses and locked up the storehouses and cellars.  It is unclear where the Poffenbergers went during the battle but with both having family in the area they may have stayed with relatives at a nearby farm.  By the afternoon of September 16, the Union First Corps occupied the whole Poffenberger farm, with artillery taking up positions on the ridge directly behind the house.  Major General Joseph Hooker, the First Corps commander, made his headquarters in the barn as the battle erupted in the East Woods at the southern edge of the Poffenberger property.  As day broke on the morning of the 17th, Confederate artillery fire from batteries on Nicodemus Heights and near the Dunker Church began raining down on the Union positions.   As the battle ebbed and flowed to the south through D.R. Miller’s cornfield, the Union First Corps soldiers found themselves back where they started twelve hours before; at the Poffenberger farmstead.

The red line represents the approx. boundary of farm when NPS acquired the 120 acre farm in 2000. Additional acreage was to the east across Hagerstown Pike and on the west along the Smoketown Road.

When Joseph returned that evening he recalled, “… my house it was completely empty. I had nothing left. I lived on army crackers that I found on the battlefield for five days.”  The damage was significant according to Jacob Eakle, who visited shortly after the fighting ended, and he stated the “farm was a perfect wreck after the battle, crops destroyed, house riddle and every thing taken out.”  The most significant damage occurred in the days after the battle as Union soldiers plundered his farmstead using his fields for horse’s of the army’s wagon trains, taking up the fences for firewood, and carrying off forty-ton of straw and hay for army stock and bedding for soldiers.

 

The Union army encamped on the farm until October 20, 1862, and used up the resources that Joseph and Mary Ann Poffenberger had stored for the coming winter months.  According to Poffenberger’s claim against the Federal government, his losses included:

• 500 bushels of wheat
• 60 bushels of rye
• 150 bushels of oats
• 80 bushels of potatoes
• 20 tons of hay
• 240 pounds of bacon
• 28 acres plus 200 bushels of old corn
• 18 loads of fodder
• 14 tons of straw
• 20 acres of pasture
• 7 beef cattle
• 20 swine
• 13 sheep
• 5 cords of hickory wood
• 7 cords of oak wood
• over 5,350 fence rails (described as a worm fence, nine rails to the panel),
• 50 bushels of apples
• 4 four barrels of cider
• 4 bushels of peaches
• grapes on the vine
• 2 bushels of dried cherries and plums
• 10 gallons each apple, plum and peach butter

This claim of $2,277.55 was “disallowed” by the government “because the proof of the stores and supplies was insufficient” and they were “not convinced that the stores and supplies were actually taken and used by the United States Army.”  Joseph would go to his grave without receiving reimbursement from the government. Five years after his death in May 1893, Lawson W. Poffenberger, the executor of Joseph’s estate was awarded $1918.00 for a resubmitted claim of $2,721.50.

Joseph and Mary Ann Poffenberger’s gravestone at Mountain View Cemetery

The greatest loss of the Poffenberger family would be the death of Mary Ann, just two years later, on August 12, 1864.  Like many of Sharpsburg residents, it is possible that her death was a result of the rampant disease that took many of Mary Ann’s neighbors following the battle.  Joseph never remarried but continued to live and work on his farm.  With help from his nephew Alfred Poffenberger, who had leased the Mary Grove Locher farm in the West Woods at the time of the battle, Joseph was able to increase production and add another 28 acres to the farm.

By 1880, Alfred had moved to Iowa and Joseph turned over the operation of the farm to his nephew, Otho J. Poffenberger and his wife Elizabeth.  Joseph would move to the tenant house to allow Otho and Elizabeth room in the main house to raise their children.

Joseph Poffenberger passed away on June 13, 1888 at the age of 76.  Joseph and Mary Ann Poffenberger rest together at the Mountain View Cemetery in Sharpsburg.

 

Otho had purchased the farm, updating the house and building on a rear addition.  In 1895, the War Department purchased property from Otho in order to build a tour road known as Mansfield Avenue, which allowed for the placement of monuments, tablets and markers.

Otho Poffenberger family in front of Joseph Poffenberger’s house, c. 1880.

Newly constructed War Department road, Mansfield Avenue, looking east from Hagerstown Turnpike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Otho would continue to live and manage the farm until his death in 1932, when his son, Joseph W. Poffenberger purchased the farm.  In 1944, Joseph and his wife Bertha deeded the property over to Elmer L. Poffenberger who would later sell the farm to Fred and Renee Kramer in 1966. The last transfer of the Joseph Poffenberger farmstead occurred on June 8, 2000 when the National Park Service purchased the property from the Kramer’s.  Since that time the Park Service has stabilized the structures and restored the landscape to its post-war appearance.  Like the other farmsteads throughout the battlefield, the Poffenberger farm is an eyewitness to history.

Joseph Poffenberger Farmstead today

 

 

Sources:
  • Barron, Lee and Barbara Barron The History of Sharpsburg, Maryland: Founded by Joseph Chapline, 1763. Sharpsburg: self-published, 1972.
  • Maryland Historical Trust, Joseph R. Poffenberger Farm, WA-II-279, Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form, 1978, 24 January 2017
    https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/PDF/Washington/WA-II-279.pdf.
  • Tuomi, Suanne, One REALLY Big Family!: Information about John Poffenberger, 25 January 2017
    http://www.genealogy.com/ftm/t/u/o/Suanne-Tuomi/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0172.html
  • U.S. National Park Service, Joseph Poffenberger Farmstead Cultural Landscape Inventory, Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2007.
  • Walker, Kevin M and K. C. Kirkman, Antietam Farmsteads: A Guide to the Battlefield Landscape Sharpsburg: Western Maryland Interpretive Association, 2010.
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